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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009


"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

At 26, Amy had it all: A happy marriage, a new baby, and -- breast cancer

By Diane Denning

December 10, 2008 | Amy and Trevor Merritt were content with their life. They had been married for two years and had a 1-year-old daughter. Late one night in August of 2007, after nursing her daughter, Amy said she felt a "pea-sized lump," in her right breast.

Amy was just 26 years old, so she figured it was just a clogged milk gland, but just to be on the safe side decided to go to the doctor to have it looked at. The doctor didn't seem too concerned about it and told her to come back in three weeks. After those three weeks, the doctor's outlook seemed the same, but he suggested sending her to a surgeon "just to be safe." An ultrasound didn't show anything, but the surgeon wanted to remove the lump, "just to be safe." The doctor removed a quarter-sized lump then Amy waited to see if it was malignant.

"I wasn't too worried about it," Amy said. "But it was still in the back of my mind, so I called the doctor for the results." She wasn't prepared for the news that came from the other end of the telephone. The biopsy came back positive; she had breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in their life. Amy had heard those statics, but never thought she would be part of the 12 percent who actually got breast cancer, especially at such a young age.

"I was shocked," she said. "I didn't have breast cancer in my family and I didn't expect this news."

When Amy told her husband Trevor, he too had a hard time believing it. "My immediate reaction was to go into defensive mode," Trevor said. "I kept telling myself over and over again, my wife has cancer, my wife has cancer. I couldn't get it to set it. I didn't want it to set in."

This started the beginning of a long journey filled with chemotherapy, radiation and numerous surgeries. First Amy had seven or her lymph nodes removed from her right armpit and breast. Then, she started chemotherapy.

"Chemo consisted of six treatments," Amy said. "Each treatment lasted about four hours and then I was sick for about three days after."

"During the chemotherapy, a lot of what I felt was helplessness," Trevor said. "She would start feeling better a few days after the chemo, then we would take her in for another treatment, and she would get sick again. I felt like we were taking her in get more poison."

Amy didn't let anything get her down. "Chemotherapy can be a really good experience if you want it to be. I didn't want to hear anything negative, I wanted to focus on the positive," she said. "Cancer has the word 'can' in it, and that is what I focused on."

Amy was aware that one of the side effects of chemotherapy was hair loss, but she didn't realize how hard it was going to be for her to actually lose it.

"This was probably the hardest part, losing all my hair," she said. "It just wasn't me. I ended up shaving it off and putting a wig on because it was falling out in clumps. I didn't want anyone to see me."

But, Amy soon became comfortable without her wig and chose not to wear it all the time. Her neighbor Tahnean George said, "My 4-year-old daughter saw Amy walking around the neighborhood without her wig on and asked her, 'Why do you have a boy's hair cut?' Because Amy was so comfortable with the fact that she had cancer, it made those around her comfortable with it."

After chemotherapy, Amy started radiation at McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden Utah. "Chemo ruined my taste buds," Amy said. "With radiation I was finally starting to feel better.

"I heard this quote early on in my cancer treatments that said, 'Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.' This became my motto," she said.

"I promised Amy she would be OK and we would make it through," Trevor stated. "Amy's attitude was always positive and that is what helped her the most."

Lacey Fellows is a radiology oncology nurse and the breast cancer coordinator at the Cache Valley Cancer Treatment and Research Clinic in Logan, Utah. "If something has changed in your breast, you need to get it checked out," Fellows said. "You need to be your own advocate. Be aware of any unusual shapes, feelings, or discharge from the nipples."

Fellows said women of all ages need to be doing self exams monthly, usually two weeks after their period. Guides and pamphlets are available at the cancer center and online for those who aren't familiar with how to do a self exam.

"Don't be embarrassed," Fellows said. "You have to get to know your own breast. Every woman is different. Your doctor doesn't know your breast like you do."

According to the American Cancer Society, women at the age of 20 have a 1 in 1,837 chance of getting breast cancer within the next 10 years. Women at the age of 30 have a 1 in 234 chance, and women at the age of 40 have a 1 in 70 chance. The numbers keep decreasing drastically as women become older, until the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer becomes 1 in 8.

Women of all ages are susceptible to breast cancer. According to Young Survival Coalition more than 11,100 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. And there are more than 250,000 women living in the U.S. today who were under the age of 40 when they were diagnosed with it.

Dr. Nancy Elliot, in an article entitled "Hope and Heroes" in Curves magazine, said "If you've got breasts, you're at risk." The article goes on to say only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer is caused due to genetics. And, according to the American Cancer Society, there aren't any guaranteed ways of preventing breast cancer yet.

Amy found her lump early when it was at a stage one. Because of early detection she is a survivor, and is currently cancer free at the age of 27.

"Until you experience breast cancer in your family or you experience it yourself, you just don't fully understand," Amy said. "One thing I want all women to know is to be aware of their own bodies. Breast cancer is very treatable when you catch it early. You just can't be embarrassed."



Copyright 1997-2009 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-3292
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